Sermons on Blue Collar Work

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These sermons were written and delivered by Pastor Kent Duncan as part of a project facilitating marketplace ministry in a blue-collar context.

You can find out more about the project here.

The Gift of Work for Blue Collar Workers (Sermon Notes)

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So…how do you like your job?

A Gallup poll released less than two weeks ago has some startling things to say about the realities of the American workplace. And some related research, though not quite so recent, reveals some equally fascinating data about workers attitudes regarding their jobs.

In a report released on August 29th of this year, Gallup says that “Adults employed full time in the U.S. report working an average of 47 hours per week.”1 Think of that—the average “full time” American worker is really working six 8-hour days a week, not five. Nearly four in 10 (40%!) say they typically work at least 50 hours…and 18% say they typically work over 60 hours a week.

I’d say the 40-hour work week isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, huh?

A survey done about a year ago by Harris Interactive reported that “55 percent of American workers would like to change careers. [More specifically], nearly 80 percent of working adults in their 20s and nearly two-thirds of those in their 30s would like to do so.”2 Now—that survey was done for the University of Phoenix, so there might be a little “institutional bias” built into the survey there…but a larger survey—150,000 participants— released by Gallup a year ago says something similar. Gallup reported that “70 percent of American workers are either disengaged or actively disengaged in their jobs.”3 Specifically, about 50% don’t really care about their jobs—they’re just putting in their time. And about 20% resent their jobs enough that they look for ways to “muck up” the works!

Put another way, On average, only about 30% of us really like going to work.

Wow! For something that eats up roughly a third of your life—think of it: sleep takes a third, work takes a third, and your pastor would like a good chunk of the other third, please—it has to be a tough thing to dislike your work that much.

And in case you’re wondering—this isn’t an east coast or west coast thing: Kansas lines right up with the national averages on this one.

So…is that the deal? That once I finish school and enter the work force, the odds are I’m really not going to like what I do with a third of the rest of my life—and I might even hate it? That “life’s hard, and then you die, and then they throw dirt in your face”…but before all that, I get to plug away, 9 to 5 for 40 or 50 years…(and for some of us, it won’t be that convenient—there’ll be 2nd shift, 3rd shift, and swing shift work!)

No wonder everybody know how this phrase ends: “Thank God it’s … Friday!” No wonder Loverboy made a hit when they sang “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend”!

Work’s a bear, isn’t it?

Over the next four Sundays, we’re going to be looking at the subject of work—at what the Bible has to say about work—about God’s intention for the place of work in our lives. And I’ll just tell you up front: For all the frustration that work can be…for all the challenges of having too much work, too little work, or (at times when we wish we had it) no work at all … for all the difficulties of satisfying the impossible boss or getting along with the unbearable co-worker or motivating the unproductive employee … I’m convinced that God intends for our work to be a purposeful and pleasing part of our lives. That—in spite of its challenges—work can become something we look forward to and understand differently when we consider what God has to say about work. That over the next four weeks, God the Holy Spirit would like to transform our hearts so that the thought of "9 to 5 ‘til Kingdom Come" transitions from sounding like something ominous and foreboding—like a threat— to sounding, rather, like something rich with hope and promise (as I believe it is). So let’s dive in together. And there’s no better place to start than at the beginning —Genesis, chapter 1. I’m guessing you’re familiar with these opening words:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

That’s the opening statement—the opening declaration…the summary statement …a “chapter heading,” as it were—for all that follows. And as the story of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth unfolds, the Scriptures establish clearly the pattern for how it happens: God speaks, and life results.

This happens again and again, verse by verse, something like the growing refrain of a great concerto’s musical theme (I like to think). (Have you ever heard Beethoven’s Fifth? Or Ravel’s Bolero?) At God’s voice, light fills the darkness, vegetation fills the land, fish fill the oceans, creatures fill the forests, and birds fill the air. There’s a repeated motif, but each time it grows in intensity and complexity and beauty.

In Genesis 1:26, however, God the Divine Composer introduces a new motif and a new instrument through which to sound it:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26)

The new motif is dominion—“let them rule”…and the new instrument is humanity— this creature formed in the image of God! (The Scriptures don’t make that statement about any other part of created order. No other part of creation is formed “in the image of God.”) And I invite you not to miss the turn the creation story takes in verse 26. Because here, Scripture reveals humanity in this way:

Humanity is like everything else, in that we are created, but like nothing else, in that we’re formed of the dust of the earth, animated by the breath of God, and created in the image of God.

Now, over the centuries, a lot of people have spent a lot of time pondering and discussing and debating what that means: what it means to be formed in the image of God. The bottom line is, there are things about God that find points of correspondence in us. There’s “stuff” about us that reflects “stuff” about Him!

And here’s something I’d like you to see as we think about this: We spend a lot of time talking about what God is like. And we say things like, “God is love. God is righteous. God is sovereign. God is compassionate.” And all those things are true. But there’s something else revealed in Genesis 1 about who God is and what God is like that I seldom hear anyone mention—and it’s this: God is a worker.

“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17)

That God is a Worker is clear from all the activity of Genesis 1. It’s clear from the declaration of Jesus Himself in John, chapter 5. But if that’s not enough to convince you of its significance, please notice that when we get to a sort of “summary statement” about the creation account in Genesis 2—the Scriptures describe God as working three times in two verses!

“By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3)

Here’s something interesting: The Hebrew word translated “work” here is used only four times in the entire Old Testament to describe the work of God--three of those times are right here. But the word is used 151 other times in the Old Testament —every time describing the ordinary work of ordinary people. Because of that, I’m suggesting that— inspired by the Holy Spirit—the author of Genesis wanted to make sure *we* made the connection between God’s work and ours. You see, from the beginning God Works. And from the beginning so do we.

If you’re familiar at all with what Genesis says, you know that in chapter 3, there’s the whole story of Adam and Eve and the serpent and the “forbidden fruit” (we usually say “apple”, but the Bible’s not specific). And you likely recall that—as a result of Adam and Eve’s foolish dismissal of God’s command and their choice to partake of the forbidden fruit regardless—God pronounces a curse upon Eve, upon Adam, and upon the serpent. And the curse upon Adam relates directly to his work—

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground… (Genesis 3:17-19)

Bummer, right? I mean—huge bummer! And the trouble is that many of us—if we’ve considered what the Bible has to say about work at all—have taken our cues from this passage, have identified all too easily with what this passage says about work and, in the process, neglected other—(I say) more significant passages!

You see, humanity’s history with work goes back further than the curse! It’s clear that, because of God’s fully righteous declaration in response to Adam’s sin, work takes on a more difficult and burdensome quality. “Work,” says Edward Veith, “is a virtue tainted by sin.” But we’ve got to be careful when we think about work—and the challenges it presents—not to throw the baby out with the bathwater! Work began as God’s gift! Nothing’s changed that!

When God forms Adam from the dust of the earth (And by the way, the word used for God’s forming of Adam is another word for human work—it’s the word that describes the activity of a craftsman, an artisan, and most frequently the activity of a potter forming the clay), but when God forms Adam from the dust of the earth and breathes into him the “breath of life,” He then places Adam in the Garden of Eden—another part of the story we all know. But He doesn’t place Adam in the Garden with, you know, one of those portable lounge chairs and a glass of iced tea. No—He puts Adam in a garden and gives the man a plow and a harrow:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15 )

So—know this—work didn’t come about as a result of our sin. The curse that God pronounces doesn’t say that Adam has, now, to work—Adam was already working. It simply declares that the difficulties of work would increase.

Friend, the curse declared that the difficulties in childbirth would increase, too—and we still thing (in spite of the labor) that that’s a beautiful thing, too! So…even in the Garden of Eden—even in a perfect world—life was not, for Adam, workless—some sort of all-inclusive vacation resort, where he was waited on hand and foot. Eden was a workplace, where Adam engaged and cultivated creation!

Work is included in God’s gift of a perfect world. Because we’re made in the image of a God who works our world would be incomplete—less perfect—without it.

Let’s talk for a minute, then, about the purpose of work.

Adam, Scripture says, is called to “work” the Garden and “take care of it.” You may hear this sometimes described as “the cultural mandate”—humanity’s responsibility to “make something” of the world we’ve been given. Interestingly, the words used here are the same words used consistently throughout the Old Testament to describe the ministry offered to God by Israel’s priests. Adam’s labor in the Garden is no different than the ministry of the priests—it is an act of spiritual service to the Lord…and the Garden (where Adam works!) is the sanctuary in which that ministry takes place!

And here’s where we really begin to see the purpose behind work as God’s gift, and also ways, then, that we can offer our work back to God. Based on what we know from Adam, we can say three things our work accomplishes:

1) Our work continues God’s work

God—in the creation account of Genesis, chapter 1—takes what is “formless and empty” (”without form, and void” KJV) and brings it to life. He shapes it. He defines it. He establishes boundaries between the various components…and, by establishing those boundaries, establishes relationship between the elements of this created order—He creates the dry land and separates the water from it, for example. Puts the birds in the trees and the fish in the seas. He’s putting things where they go. (Mothers of toddlers—listen up—your work has a divine precedent! Bringing order where there was once chaos!)

And as part of God’s creative actions, then, He plants a garden, full of all kinds of trees, the Bible says:

The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground— trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.(Genesis 2:9 )

The trees were pleasing to the eye and good for food. And then He plants Adam in that garden, giving Adam responsibility.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.(Genesis 2:15)

Work the Garden and take care of it. The command is to care for what God has created, while cultivating it into something even more. (It occurs to me that if you’re familiar with the Parable of the Talents in the New Testament—the story Jesus tells of the master who gave one servant five talents, and another two talents, and a third, one talent— and expected them to cultivate what he supplied into something more. Well, that’s the idea here!) Adam has a preserving and cultivating responsibility.

In chapter 1, the command is worded a bit differently:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28 )

"Be fruitful…increase…fill the earth…and subdue it.” The challenge—the charge—is the same: “Continue my work. Move what I’ve started toward its logical and beautiful conclusion! Don’t just populate the earth (you understand that—right? The command is bigger than that. If God had simply wanted 7 billion breathing bodies on the earth, He could have done that!) Don’t just populate the earth: create a civilization—a culture—a world of ‘delight’ (which is what the word ‘Eden’ means) where rich and significant fellowship with me and with other people and with the rest of created order is the norm!”

God’s intention, then, is that Adam’s work continue His. And I’m arguing that God’s intention hasn’t changed—that His intention is that our work now “continue to continue” His. That our work continue to shape this world into all God envisioned for it when He, himself, began the process of shaping it in Genesis, chapter 1. And that’s a statement made not just about the things we consider “spiritual” things—but the predictable and ordinary things we deal with every day. Yes, even on the job. Your job is your garden to cultivate to God’s glory!

And this is where I say: if your thought, right now, is “well, my work never feels like I’m cultivating Eden!”—well, hang in there with me. Sometimes it’s our work that needs transformed—always we’re battling the ongoing impact of sin and its curse—but sometimes, it’s just the way we see our work that needs transformed—sometimes we need to grow our capacity to see what we’re doing in the “ordinary” of our world as one of God’s tool for continuing to create His extraordinary world. In this way, our work continues God’s work.

2) Our work partners with God’s work

Part of what it means for humanity to be formed “in the image of God” is that we were designed to serve as God’s representative on God’s behalf in God’s world.

When God says within Himself: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule…” (Genesis 1:26) and when God says to humanity: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28 ) that is a commissioning ceremony. We are commissioned to co-regency, to partnership, with the God who rules over all. Specifically, we are appointed to rule over the earth as He would rule over the earth. But the only way we’re ever going to do that is in partnership with Him.

When God places Adam in the Garden with instructions to “work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15) God doesn’t, then, just wander off to other places and abandon Adam, leaving Adam to figure out what that’s all supposed to look like on his own. Rather, it’s clear (specifically from the breaking of fellowship that occurred with Adam’s sin) that, prior to Adam’s sin, continuing fellowship had been the norm: that God and Adam were operating in partnership on this thing. Working together.

Indeed, even within the Godhead, God Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— always exists and acts in partnership. And the gift of “work” that God has extended to us is not a gift from a deist God who—like some cosmic clockmaker—sets the world in order, gets it to ticking, and then goes off and busies Himself with other things. Rather, the God of the Christian Scriptures is an engaged God—fully and continually involved with His creation. We read it a moment ago—Jesus said about the Father (and then about Himself):

“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17)

And guess what? The invitation to partnership with God in the work He is doing remains. “Join us,” Jesus says…

“As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me” (John 9:4)

Indeed, God already has your garden plot ready:

For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

The thing’s plowed and planted, so to speak—and all God needs is a partner willing to bring it to fruition! And I know what you think when I say that. Okay—at least, I think I know what you think when I say that. You think: “Okay, Pastor. After I’ve put in the 47 hours my 40-hour work week demands, and— well, after that, the kids have sports, and Aunt Mamie’s coming in—but after those things I can get around to those “good works” God’s prepared in advance.”

No—maybe the God who gave you the gift of work, who formed you in His image—He, himself, being a worker—and who cultivated the garden in advance for you as He mapped out the days of your life, maybe He wasn’t ignoring the fact that you had a job that consumes, on its own, a third of your adult lifetime. Maybe even a third of the “good works” He’s prepared in advance for you to do are tasks you can partner with Him on, in the daily grind of the 9 to 5. Maybe He’s already got that figured out!

Maybe there’s some way in which your work was God’s work before it ever became your work. Maybe God’s already got that figured out. Because when I read Genesis, Our work partners with God’s work. It’s what I see in the life of Adam. It’s what I see in the example of Jesus. It’s what I read as the promise of Scripture. Maybe my work means more than I’ve thought. I’m declaring that it does, because Our work continues God’s work. Our work partners with God’s work.

3) Our work remains blessed with His authority and purpose

Here’s something I hope you can appreciate. It’s not just our souls that Jesus redeems. Jesus didn’t humble himself from eternal glory to the taking on of human flesh, live a sinless life in the face of Satan’s most compelling temptations, die an unspeakably horrific death on a rugged cross ,just so that our sins could be forgiven, our souls redeemed, and the rest of all we are and all we know left to rot as somehow unimportant or unredeemable. If there’s anything I hope we can see with “new eyes” over the next few weeks, it’s that all of created order looks for, longs for, and is promised liberation through Christ.

… the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed… (Romans 8:19)

Why? Because the creation exists alive with hope of liberation:

…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21 )

From its bondage to decay and in equal hope of its experience of the same freedom and glory the children of God already know. The creation itself groans, Romans says, in anticipation of this liberation. And here’s the deal: If it’s the whole of created order that Christ died to redeem—and I get it, that might be a concept some of you’ve not thought much about, but—as you’ve heard me say, perhaps—it’s not just a bunch of disembodied souls occupying some ethereal heaven “up there, somewhere” that is the hope of the Christian. In spite of the popular mythology, it’s not a harp and a cloud and angel wings we’re looking for. It is, rather, the consummation of all things in Christ—the completion, in full, of what God had in mind when He first spoke the worlds into existence. It is the full enjoyment of a new heaven (yes) but also a new earth—functioning as it ought to—as the home of righteousness—each of us participating in a resurrected body just as glorious as Christ’s resurrected body—that is our hope!

And if it’s all of that Christ died to redeem, if it’s the whole of created order for which He gave His life, if Jesus’ redemption is just that big, why wouldn’t His redemptive act stretch to include your job, as well?

If He’s restoring all things, then why would He not restore to your work—in the garden He’s prepared for you—the same authority and purpose that marked Adam’s work in the garden God prepared for him? But if that’s so, what does your job look like when you see it like that?

I’m asking you to consider these question:

  1. Our work continues His. What does your work look like when it continues the kind of creative, cultivating ordering of this world that He did in Genesis 1?
  2. Our work partners with His. What does your work look like when you’re not at your task alone…or even by your own design…but rather, in partnership with Him?
  3. Our work remains blessed with His authority and purpose. What does your work look like when you dare to believe it to be ordained of God and blessed with His authority and purpose?

Discussion Guide for The Gift of Work for Blue Collar Workers

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These discussion questions relate to Kent Duncan’s sermon: The Gift of Work for Blue Collar Workers. Learn more about his integrated outreach to blue collar workers by reading his thesis: Facilitating Marketplace Ministry in a Blue-Collar Context.

Tell us something about yourself by answering one of the following questions:

  1. How’d you end up with the job you’ve got?
  2. What’s the best part of the work you do?
  3. What’s the worst day on the job you’ve ever had?
  4. What do you do/make at your job?
  5. If you could have the perfect job, what would it be?

Discussion Questions relating to this week’s sermon: The Gift of Work for Blue Collar Workers

  1. Read Genesis 2:8-17. This passage shows that Adam had work-related responsibilities even in the Garden of Eden. What does this suggest to you about the nature of work? How’d you imagine Adam’s experience of labor in the Garden of Eden?
  2. Genesis 1:27 says that humanity is created “in the image of God.” Ancient accounts from other cultures use that phrase as well, but only of a nation’s king as their god’s representative over the land. What do you think is the significance, then of Genesis describing every human as formed “in the image of God”?
  3. In Genesis 1:28, Adam’s assignment is to “fill the earth and subdue it,” to “rule over” it. In Genesis 2:15, Adam is directed to “work” and “take care of” the Garden of Eden. How does this relate to God’s creative activity in Genesis chapter 1?
  4. The Hebrew words translated “work” and “take care of” in Genesis 2:15 are the same words used throughout the Old Testament for the ministry of Israel’s priests. What does this tell you about how God views human labor?
  5. G. Charles Aalders suggest that “caring for” the Garden included defending it against “hostile forces."1 Bruce Waltke agrees, declaring that “as priest and guardians of the garden, Adam and Eve should have driven out the serpent."2 These comments suggest that Adam’s responsibilities in the garden included not only the cultivation of the ground but also the defense of God’s territory. In what way do your work responsibilities reflect these of Adam?
  6. Andy Crouch suggests that over the last 100 years or so Christians have typically reacted to culture in one of four ways: by (1) condemning, (2) critiquing, (3) copying, or simply (4) consuming it. He suggests a fifth possibility: cultivating culture. How do Adam’s responsibilities to cultivate and create within the Garden shape your thoughts about God’s purpose in your work?
  7. In what ways might you view your work differently this week in light of the Scriptures we’ve looked at today?

The Gift of Rest for Blue Collar Workers (Sermon Notes)

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We spent time last Sunday discussing what the early chapters of Genesis reveal about God—and about us—in relation to work. We discovered that work is central to the character of God—it’s part of who He is as revealed in what He does—and, therefore (we discovered), that part of what it means for us to be formed in the image of God is that we were made as workers, also! That contrary to a very common sentiment, work is not a curse to be avoided, but a gift to be embraced—that there was work for humanity from the beginning as part of God’s gift to us of a perfect world. And it was significant work, purposeful work, work that continued God’s creative activity and reflected our position as partners with God in ruling the earth!

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)

In the Garden of Eden, our job was to “fill the earth and subdue it"—not just to populate it, not just “load” it with bodies, but to fill it with life, civilization, culture—to continue to develop it even beyond the beautiful place it was when we received it, to partner with God in marching civilization toward its consummation in Christ!

And the truth is—though humanity’s sin altered the challenges of work, it did not change the fundamental character of work as both “good” and “purposeful.” God’s intention for our work is that, in it, we share His regency…and that through it, we cultivate and create and bring order and beauty, just as He did in developing this earth from something “formless and empty” (Gen 1:2) to something full of life and vitality. He shaped it and filled it (it might be more accurate to say He “began the task of shaping and filling it”) and then created us (as part of that process) and generously empowered us to continue the task He’d already begun of “shaping and filling” this world with His goodness.

But God’s gift of work—as good as it is…as “burdened with glorious purpose” as it is—God’s gift of work isn’t (alone) the whole story. Our work—even done in partnership with God and in ways that continue His creative activity—our work is not complete in and of itself. Rather, Scripture makes it clear that our work must be informed by rest.

The same two verses of Genesis that sort of “wrap up” the creation account of Genesis 1—Genesis 2:2-3—…the same verses that describe God as “worker” three times in two verses (I kind of imagine the author of Genesis saying, “What part of God as Worker don’t you understand?)…those same verses tell us something else about who God is and about the pattern God establishes for us. Genesis 2:2-3 says that:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. [3] Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)

Surprise! The same verses that announce so boldly “God as Worker” announce just as boldly “God as Sabbath Observer,” announce that the God who works is also the God who rests! And who—in doing so Himself—calls us to rest, as well!

These two verses are really quite amazing—partly because even when God does nothing, as it were, even when He rests from all his work. He’s still creating. Something new is brought into being that didn’t exist before. “In the first six days,” Bruce Waltke says:

“In the first six days space is subdued; on the seventh, time is sanctified.” Bruce Waltke

Do you see that? Do you see that, by “resting from all the work of creating he had done” God “makes something different” of that seventh day—that He gives it an altogether different character. He infused that seventh day with a distinctive significance—with a purpose all its own…somehow unique from the rest of the week?

I think understanding the significance and purpose of that *seventh* day is as essential as understanding all rest—that understanding “Sabbath” is essential to understanding what it means to be a worker formed in the image of God. And I’ll confess that I’m a little concerned—as I try to speak with you about the significance and purpose of the Sabbath—that what you think you know about the Sabbath…or what you’ve heard other preachers say about the Sabbath (because I’m the guy who’s finally getting it right!)…or perhaps legitimate questions you carry about the Sabbath… are going to get in the way of what I’d really like for you to hear most of all, this morning.

Maybe, you know, it’s a real frustration to you how you see people “disregard” the Sabbath and you think it ought to be observed more strictly…or maybe you’ve never understood why the Jewish Sabbath is Saturday (basically) and the Christian Sabbath is Sunday (generally)…or, you know, maybe there’s something else. Let me ask you this: Whatever your questions or concerns might be—would you be bold enough to just lay those aside for a few minutes and hear my best understanding of the heart of God on this matter of the Sabbath?

I’m convinced if we can hear God’s heart on this matter, it’ll help us with some of the more “technical” and “application-related” questions we carry—like “How do I actually ‘observe the Sabbath’ in 21st century America?” When we know God’s heart on the matter, we get better answers to our questions. More than that, I am convinced ‘observing the Sabbath’—if we can understand it and embrace it—is a “work related” principle that will transform our lives. The Sabbath, I’m convinced, serves Four Critical Functions.

If we can sort of “zoom out” far enough to get our heads (and hearts) around these four critical functions of the Sabbath, not only will we get better answers to some of the more specific questions we have, but—more importantly—we’ll live “better lives” on every level, because we will be living in alignment with God’s intentions for us—intentions He held even as He formed us from the dust of the earth. We’ll live fuller, more satisfying, more God-honoring and influential lives because we’ll be operating within our manufacturer’s specifications (so to speak)!

I jammed up a paper shredder the other day. It was a light-duty unit, made for 3 sheets of paper at a time, not even designed to handle staples or paper clips or anything like that. I tried to run a plastic credit card through it. I knew what I was doing, and did it anyway (ever done that?), and jammed it up and nearly burned out the motor in the process. I was trying to do something it wasn’t designed to do! And when I turned it upside down to take it apart for repair—‘cause there ain’t nothin’ I won’t at least *try* to repair, right?—I saw that my paper shredder had a specified “duty cycle.”

Do you know what that is? It’s a limit on the amount of time you’re supposed to actually *use* the machine relative to how long you have it on. I think it was, like, 2 minutes of “non-use” for every 4 minutes of “use”—but I don’t remember, because I have no intentions of following those guidelines…I’m going to use that machine until I break it! But how many of you understand that the guidelines are there for a reason…and as I persist in ignoring them, I’m gonna burn up the machine and then it won’t be good for anything except taking up space in the paper shredder cemetery!

Well, in Genesis 2 (and in any number of other places in the Scriptures) there’s a pattern of “Sabbath” that God establishes "manufacturer’s guidelines.” Following those guidelines—embracing the practice of Sabbath—fulfills four critical functions. I’d like to identify those for you and discuss them with you just a bit.

So we’ve all got these two key verses in our heads, right?

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3 NIV)

Why does embracing that pattern matter? Why would God establish the Sabbath? First Sabbath is Testimony. When I practice Sabbath, I testify that I am under God’s authority, in partnership with God’s leadership, and dependent upon Him for who I am and all I enjoy.

Now listen—I’m gonna read that little 3-point list again, and I’d like you to ask yourself if you want that to be true of you. When I practice Sabbath, I testify that I am (1) under God’s authority, (2) in partnership with God’s leadership, and (3) dependent upon Him for who I am and all I enjoy.

Let’s assume (for the moment) that God and I become business partners. To be clear, I’m a minority owner—God’s the majority owner, and so God’s the One who gets to call the shots. I’ve pledged to operate under His authority…and in partnership with His leadership…and to remain dependent upon Him for who I am and all I enjoy. (That’s really a pretty good description for what it means to live this life of faith, isn’t it?) God moves us to the great Northwest where we open up a logging business: G & K Lumberjacks: Sawing Logs ‘til Kingdom Come. Like so many business start-ups, we’re underfunded. So we start with nothing more than a two-man crosscut saw. (Abbey—Use pic on flash drive if possible) But the trees are plenteous. We’ve launched on a beautiful Monday morning. So we get to work. We work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. The getting’s good, the sales are moving along, the money’s coming in, we’re feeling good so we keep working. We work Thursday, then Friday, then Saturday, and we are about to break even! If we’ll just keep going, we’ll not only make it—we might even get ahead of the game a bit - we can move this business along! I’m pretty excited, and I want to see this thing succeed! But at quittin’ time on Saturday, God says, “Good week’s work—we’ll take tomorrow off…and start again on Monday.” Here’s my question: What does it say if I decide to work the next day, anyway? If I know my best work is only done in partnership with Him, and I know my true identity and blessing are found in Him (I am who I am because of Him), and I’ve declared He gets to be king, what does it say if He says “six days on—full bore, if you want—and one day off” and I decide to work that seventh day, anyway?

I find this the idea of me—out in the forest alone, trying to operate a two-man saw— the perfect mental image of what many of us have done with the Sabbath. Clearly—as long as I’m out there clearing the forest when He’s said “This day is mine,” I’m not operating under His authority. I’m not in partnership with His leadership. And I’m not depending on Him for who I am and all I enjoy.

Instead, I’m declaring the opposite—that I’m my own boss and I’ll be deciding what to do with my time—…that I’m not working in partnership with Him—‘cause I’m clearly working whether He’s working or not. And that I apparently have decided I have to make it on my own—because I’m clearly not depending on Him for who I am and all I enjoy…I’m depending on what I can get done with one more day’s work!

And that’s exactly what we do when there’s no practice of the Sabbath in our lives— when there’s no time strictly devoted to Him! We do it with our work—when we think we’ve got to work every day regardless just to stay afloat—we make work our source, instead of trusting God’s provision, and end up giving “work” the place that only God should hold. But many do it not only with work…but with leisure, as well—when nothing about our non-working hours says, “Even this time is sacred—even these moments are to be lived under His authority, and in partnership with Him as the source of who I am and all I enjoy!

And here’s the trouble with that: The practice of Sabbath is rooted in creation itself, and comes with the understanding that the purpose of work—that the purpose of life—is not just to stay ahead of the bill collector. The purpose and joy of work is so much bigger than that: Partnering with God toward the world He envisioned when He first began to speak it into existence! That reality begs the question of whether working 24/7/365 reflects the kind of world our God is working for, and, equally, begs the question of whether every spare moment outside of the workplace being spent in a frantic rush from one activity to another really reflects the kind of world our God is building!

By contrast—when I learn to embrace and practice Sabbath—I testify that my life is tied to something bigger than the 9 to 5, bigger than the accumulation of “more,” bigger than the non-stop agenda this world (our culture) would like to impose upon us. Sabbath is Testimony

Second, Sabbath is Celebration. In Deuteronomy, chapter 5—one of the places in Scripture where the Ten Commandments are found—Moses says to the Israelites:

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work (Deuteronomy 5:12-14)

And the next verse—verse 15—gives the reason for observing the Sabbath:

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15 )

That command—as it stands—is (of course) uniquely applicable to the Israelites, as none of us were physically enslaved in Egypt. Nor were we physically brought out of Egypt with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” as Israel was. But the principle behind the command is absolutely transferable and applicable to those who count themselves among the people of God. The reason Moses gives for observing Sabbath adds a new layer of meaning to the practice of Sabbath…and gives us one more reason to make sure we observe the Sabbath—as a celebration before the Lord our God!

You see, if Israel’s history is anything, it is a prequel to our history! If Israel’s deliverance from slavery is anything, it is a prequel to our deliverance from sin! What God did for the Israelites through Moses, He most certainly did in greater measure for us through Christ. And so—when Moses speaks to the Israelites and says, “Stop working! Stop your work a day a week—cease from your labors as our God did at creation—and dedicate that day in celebration to the saving act of God when He brought you out of Egypt”—well, there’s no doubt that such a celebration ought to be duplicated in the life of every New Testament believer—and that at least as often!

Honestly—we’re so remarkably foolish in this regard! Think about it. Do you suppose after 400 years in slavery…I mean—I don’t care how long it’s been since you’ve had a little vacation or even a day off…nobody here’s been going at it for 400 years! But please note: the Hebrews were not merely “household servants” in 1950s America, where “Christian or not,” Sunday was considered a day of rest…most everybody got a day off. No—the Hebrews were slaves in pagan Egypt. I assure you—they never heard their bosses say the words “day off,” and never dreamed of a day for Sabbath every week. So do you suppose that, after 400 years in slavery, God had to say it more than once to anyone? “Take the day off! Celebrate your freedom!”

Do you understand—one of the things that says to a liberated slave is, “You are more than just a piece of property—more than just a machine for production. You are a human being formed in the image of a loving God who has delivered you from bondage, supplying your greatest need—and so a God who can be trusted to supply your every need! Your richest identity is not found in what you accomplish, but in who it is you belong to! You are mine—my treasured possession!” Indeed, that’s exactly what Moses says to Israel, just a few chapters later:

The LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised (Deuteronomy 26:18 )

We testify to that when we embrace the practice of Sabbath, and embracing the practice of Sabbath gives us opportunity to celebrate that, as well. That’s why so frequently worship is associated with Sabbath. They’re not the same thing—and by all means, worship should be a constant of every day. But a Sabbath day allows a freedom for worship - an opportunity for worship - that simply isn’t always possible on a day filled with labor. Sabbath is Testimony Sabbath is Celebration

Third, Sabbath is Identity. Certainly that was true for Israel. For Israel, Sabbath observance served—and still does serve—as continuing evidence of what? Not rules and restrictions that bind her from “doing anything” on the Sabbath, but rather, of) her unique standing in the world as “chosen by God for covenant with Him.” God says as much—Exodus 31:13:

This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come. (Exodus 31:13 )

If it is nothing else (and I think we’ve already shown, it’s much, much more, but) if it is nothing else, the Sabbath serves as an identifier, an authenticator: this one belongs to the Lord!

There’s a synagogue near the house where my wife grew up. Every Saturday, without fail, you will see scores of faithful Jews walking down the street, dressed for worship. The first time you see the firs* person, you may be confused—“What’s that about? Who’s that? Where are they going dressed like that?” But if it takes you any longer than about 60 seconds to catch a clue, well, we’ve got to expand your understanding of cross-cultural experiences! Because when there are dozens of people, who every Saturday, dressed for worship, filling the sidewalks of what is, really, a main automotive artery. It doesn’t take long to figure out who they are! Their commitment to Sabbath observance serves identity—and by that I mean not just helping us to identify them—but helping them to identify themselves! Sabbath observance becomes a tool that helps shape their identity! “This is who we are…this is what we do!”

Now, there are a boatload of identities to be embraced in our world. You can identify yourself politically—“I’m a moderate.” “I’m a liberal.” “I’m a libertarian!” You can identify yourself socially—“I’m a hipster.” “I’m goth.” “I’m a member of the Purple Hat Society!” You can identify yourself by your leisure pursuits—“I’m a fisherman.” “I’m a sports fan.” “I like the races!” And the fact is, if you chose to, you could identify yourself as a person who chooses to observe the Sabbath that God himself ordained. You could identify yourself as one who observes, embraces, and practices the Sabbath.

“How could I do that, pastor?” By decided what it is about the Biblical Sabbath that’s non-negotiable to you.

We all have things that are non-negotiable. For some of you, being pro-life politically is non-negotiable. You could agree with every other position a candidate takes, and if they’re not pro-life, they’re not getting your vote. For some of you, being debt-free is non-negotiable. If you had the chance to buy a million-dollar house for $10,000 but had to borrow the money to do it, you’d turn it down because you’ve determined never to be in debt again.

What’s non-negotiable for you with regard to the Sabbath? Here’s the deal: If Sabbath observance—whatever that looks like—is something actually built into created order itself by what God does when He rests on the seventh day…if God really does establish, by resting, a pattern for humanity (formed in His image) to follow—what would it be that identifies you as one who practices what God has ordained?

When you decide what that is, it will serve not only to identify you as “Sabbath observant” to others, but will shape your own identity in a way that helps you say, “This is what I do because this is who I am. I’m not letting the world shape me into its mold. I’m shaping my world to reflect God’s mold, God’s pattern.” Sabbath is Testimony Sabbath is Celebration Sabbath is Identity.

Fourth, Sabbath is Promise. This practice of “Sabbath” is really a prophetic practice. We “cease” our activity—at least once a week, if I read the Scriptures right—we stop with our manipulation of our world, our striving, our clamoring—to rest in what Christ has done for us. To acknowledge that He’s God and we’re not. To strengthen, renew, and celebrate our grace- founded relationship with Him. And we do all that in prophetic anticipation of (we take a prophetic action that anticipates) what He has promised for all eternity, a Sabbath rest for the people of God! There remains, then, a Sabbath rest. Make every effort to enter into that rest.

We are promised a day—an eternal day—when the sin-induced toil that marks our work in this present age will be eliminated…and the heavens and earth will be united in righteousness…under our altogether righteous King, Jesus the Christ. If you had to list a dozen words or so that would describe that age, this would have to be one of them: Rest. Sabbath rest. And so—like so many other things we do—we choose, we determine, to observe Sabbath here and now. We let that choice mark us as unique, and as uniquely His, because we are choosing to live the future, now, to taste the realities of the coming age in this present age.

Do you think, in “Kingdom Come” you’ll be running around like a chicken with its head cut off? Just fighting to get your “to do” list completed? Just hoping to stay afloat? just wishing you could sit down for a minute and rest? Why don’t you show the Devil you can? Why don’t you just trust God enough to do so? To open and use His gift of Sabbath?

What I am talking about involves more than “whether or not” you show up for church on Sunday. There are a million good reasons to be obsessively faithful to church even if God had never ordained a “Sabbath.” I am asking you to make Sabbath as big as God has made it—and ask yourself: “What is it about my life that reflects this ‘Sabbath rest rhythm’ that God Himself has built in to the order of creation? What part of my life is Sabbath?”

Some of us couldn’t identify Sabbath in our lives. But to make work (which is actually the focus of our conversation this month) all it should be, and to make life itself all it should be—ordained and blessed by God and useful for His purposes—we’re going to have to learn to make Sabbath all it should be, testifying by it, celebrating through it, finding identity in it, renewing in our hearts God’s promise through the practice of it! To properly appreciate the gift of work, we must also embrace the gift of Sabbath.

Discussion Guide for The Gift of Rest for Blue Collar Workers

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These discussion questions relate to Kent Duncan’s sermon: The Gift of Rest for Blue Collar Workers. Learn more about his integrated outreach to blue collar workers by reading his thesis: Facilitating Marketplace Ministry in a Blue-Collar Context.

Tell us something about yourself by answering one of the following questions:

  1. Recognizing that leisure and Sabbath are two different things, what is your favorite leisure activity, hobby, or pastime?
  2. What’s the weirdest “Sabbath rule” you’ve ever heard of?
  3. As a worker made in the image of God, how do you observe Sabbath for yourself? With others? Why?
  4. What do others know about your Sabbath and why you practice it?

Discussion Questions relating to this week’s sermon: The Gift of Rest for Blue Collar Workers

Note: while considering these questions, please remember: Sabbath observance is more than just church attendance.

  1. Bruce Waltke says, “In the first six days, space is subdued; on the seventh, time is sanctified.” What seems distinct to you about the seventh day versus the other six?
  2. All sorts of labor-reducing, time saving devices have been created in recent decades. Recent advancements have made communication almost instantaneous. The internet puts information, education, social connection, household services, and entertainment at our fingertips. Still, many people seem more pressed for time than ever. What does our practice of Sabbath say to an increasingly time-crunched culture? How can our practice of Sabbath affect us as we seek to live God-honoring lives in that same culture?
  3. On the seventh day, God rested, marking His work of creating and establishing a patter for Sabbath rest. Israel, newly created by God, testified to her unique standing with God through the same. Jesus himself faithfully observed the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). How important is it for us, as a “new creation” in Christ, to develop a life marked by Sabbath rest?
  4. Since Sabbath has to do with “ceasing,” Sabbath-related questions often center on what that means – on a suitable definition of work not to be done. Tilden Edwards suggests that “the principle involved here… is not so much the physical nature of an activity but its purpose.” If the restful intent of Sabbath time is to recognize our dependence on God, what kind of work (or other activity) can be done on a day of Sabbath rest?
  5. Sabbath, according to Willem VanGemeren, is not a word that refers to “remedying exhaustion after a tiring week of work. Rather, it describes the enjoyment of accomplishment, the celebration of completion.” How does this truth inform your understanding and practice of Sabbath rest?
  6. People develop and express personal identity in a variety of ways. In what ways do you see a commitment to Sabbath observance developing your identity? In what ways does Sabbath observance express your identity? How would this be different from the ways other people express and build their identities?
  7. In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author announces that “the promise of entering his rest still stands” (Hebrews 4:1) and encourages believers to “make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). Harold Dressler suggests that, even at creation, the Sabbath was “an eschatological*, proleptic** sign indicating some future rest.” In what ways does practicing Sabbath rest today anticipate the Sabbath rest promised eternally through Christ? *eschatological: dealing with ultimate or final things; with Christianity, having to do with the destiny of humanity, the Second Coming, or the Last Judgment. ** proleptic: the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished.
  8. In what ways might you view your work – and your rest – differently this week in light of these Scriptures?

The Gift of Ability for Blue Collar Workers (Sermon Notes)

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I know. I say this all the time. But this morning’s text tells one of my favorite “Bible stories.”

There are certain stories that are just favorites, you know? Who doesn’t love the story of David and Goliath? I love the often-overlooked detail that, before David showed up at the battlefield, for 40 days the armies of the Israelites and the Philistines had faced off shouting their war cries at each other every morning. Then they apparently just dropped their weapons to their sides and walked back to camp! (Can you imagine the Chiefs and their opponent traveling to the stadium, taping up, suiting up, going through their pre-game routine, taking the field with fireworks and fog machines, crowd roaring, high fives and chest bumps all around, and then just pulling their helmets off, heading back to the locker rooms, and calling it a day???) Or who doesn’t love the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel? (We talked about it a few weeks ago.) All the prophets of the false God Baal crying out to their god with no response. And Elijah just egging ‘em on—“Cry a little louder—maybe your god’s on vacation, or taking a nap, or using the men’s room!” Who doesn’t love the compassion Jesus shows the woman caught in adultery? Or the healing He brings to Jairus’ daughter? Or the moment when He tells his professional- fisherman disciples how to fish—“Cast your nets on the other side, boys!”—and He turns out to be right! We’ve all got our favorites, I’m betting. (I’m hoping, at least!) But there’s a Bible story that’s been added to the “favorites” list for me as I’ve been examining what the Bible has to say about work. It’s a story found in Exodus, chapter 31, and it has to do with the construction of Israel’s tabernacle following their covenant with God at Mt. Sinai.

God has delivered the Hebrew people—the descendants of Abraham—from slavery in Egypt. He’s brought them to Mt. Sinai under Moses’ leadership, where He covenants with them. We’ve talked about how all this is really an expression of the same kind of creative activity we see God doing in Genesis—He takes chaos and gives it form and structure. He creates a “people” where, before, there was just “property.” His actions recognize Abraham’s descendants not as machinery but as human beings, and by those actions, then, He gives them an identity, an identity together as “the people of God”.

Rightfully, God wants to be “present” and “known” at the center of their existences. And so He instructs Moses that a tabernacle is to be built—a “place of dwelling,” a “sanctuary,” a sacred place where God would meet with His people and they with Him. God gives Moses explicit revelation regarding the design of the tabernacle—and it is a complex, costly, elaborate, and beautiful undertaking. If you’ve ever looked at blueprints for the construction of a building, and especially if you’ve read any of the accompanying specifications - that’s kind of what Moses gets from God. Not only details on the construction, but specifics as to materials and surfaces and fabrics and decorations. When I read through the Scriptures that lay out the details of the tabernacle and its construction, it boggles my mind! On the right day, I love complexity! “Life’s in the details, my friend!” But even I get lost in the intricacy that’s involved in what we know about the construction of the tabernacle for the Israelites. God, on the other hand, wasn’t thrown by the details, or by the challenge of getting the tabernacle built. He knew just what to do and just how to do it. And that’s where we’re going to pick up the story in Exodus 31. Exodus 31:1-11 says this:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”(Exodus 31:1-11)

Pentecostal people love to talk about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost—Acts, chapter 2. Pentecostal preachers love to preach about the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church - the evidence of the God’s activity among God’s people—about salvation, and healing and deliverance from demons—all when the church lives full of the Holy Spirit. But Pentecostal people and preachers alike ought to be reminded that the first person ever recorded in Scripture as having been “filled with the Spirit of God” was not an apostle or even a preacher—it was a guy who worked construction. My blue-collar buddy—Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.

“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God" (Exodus 31:2-3)

And the evidence that, indeed, he’s been filled with God’s Spirit shows up first on the jobsite! Talk about redefining “the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit”! When you don’t limit your reading about the Holy Spirit to the book of Acts—when you include the first infilling recorded anywhere in the Bible—the initial initial evidence appears to be marketplace skill and ability—the blessings of God upon this worker! God says to Moses, “I’ve made this guy the guy for the job: by filling him with my Spirit!”

And that really takes us to where I want to go, this morning while I talk with you a bit about “The Gift of Ability.” We’ve talked about the gift of work—how we, because we’ve been formed in the image of the God who works, were made for work, ourselves— His work—“good works He prepared in advance for us to do”! is work that continues the creative, cultivating process He began in Genesis, chapter 1.

We’ve talked about the gift of rest—of Sabbath, really—and how it serves as (1) a means of testimony, as (2) an opportunity for celebration, as (3) a tool to for building our identity in Him and as (4) a way to prophetically declare (and live in the now) the Sabbath experience He promises will be ours for all eternity.

Today, I want to talk about the Gift of Ability —those abilities God gives us by means of the Holy Spirit. And I invite you to expand your definition of “gifts given by the Holy Spirit” beyond those listings of the “gifts of the Spirit” we read about in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4…to consider that whatever capacities you enjoy… whatever strengths you exhibit… and whatever opportunities you may have to invest who you are fruitfully in the world around you…serve as evidence of the beauty of Holy Spirit empowerment for every facet of your life. What we discover from the account of Bezalel and Oholiab is that God chooses us purposefully God equips us bountifully God connects us cosmically

Let’s talk about it a bit. First: God chooses us purposefully. There’s no doubt—God chose Bezalel with a purpose in mind. The whole passage opens with Bezalel’s being chosen: “See, I have chosen Bezalel… (Exodus 31:2 ). And then goes on to list a dozen tasks (or more) for which Bezalel was chosen. If you whittle those eleven verses all down to the core, what God tells Moses comes out something like this: "See, I have chosen Bezalel…and I have filled him with the Spirit of God… to make everything I have commanded you," (Exodus 31:2, 3, 6 NIV) in order that he might build a tabernacle to My glory…in order that he might make everything I have commanded you to make, so that I might be in the heart of this nation, at the center of my peoples’ lives, rightly celebrated and rightly available! There was purpose in Bezalel’s calling!

God’s always doing that, you know? The Scriptures are filled with examples of God calling people with a God-honoring, Kingdom-advancing purpose in mind. He calls Abraham:

“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2)

He calls Moses:

"Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’”(Exodus 8:1)

He calls Gideon:

“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)

He calls Jonah:

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it…” (Jonah 1:1)

He calls Peter:

"Simon son of John, do you love me? …Feed my sheep." (John 21:17 )

He calls Paul—then Saul—on the Road to Emmaus:

“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6)

And here’s something I know about God—he’s no “respecter of persons.” Paul makes it clear that that’s true regarding where we all stand before God in terms of our sinfulness and need of forgiveness. "God does not show favoritism" (Romans 2:11). And Peter declares that’s equally true of God’s readiness to pour out grace on everybody (much to Peter’s surprise)—Acts, chapter 10: "God does not show favoritism" (Acts 10:34).

The same is true of the purpose with which God forms us and calls us! He doesn’t form some of us purposefully. And others, sort of nonchalantly or carelessly. God doesn’t have a day on the job where, you know, He didn’t sleep well the night before, or ate something that upset his stomach, so He’s not paying attention. No—I’m convinced—what was true for Jeremiah. What God said to Jeremiah is true for us:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

The specifics of your call may be different than someone else’s, but the respect He affords you as one formed in His image, as one fearfully and wonderfully made, means you were formed with just as much intentionality, just as much thoughtfulness—that you are just as “burdened with glorious purpose”—as any human being who’s ever lived! “See, I have chosen Bezalel" (Exodus 31:2).

Neither your place and calling—nor mine—may seem as noteworthy or significant in our eyes as the place and calling Bezalel was afforded, but—you know what—we’re not in charge—we don’t get to make that call. (“Coach, I don’t want to play right field—I want to pitch!” Well, guess what—there are times and places where you just trust that the coach knows why He has you positioned where He has you positioned. And if you want to pitch instead of playing right field, at least part of getting the opportunity to pitch involves playing right field like there’s no tomorrow!) Here’s what I do know: Just as purposefully as God chose Bezalel, He’s chosen every one of us. “You did not choose me,” Jesus said:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit--fruit that will last--and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16)

What can we learn from Bezalel and Oholiab? First God chooses us purposefully.

Second, God equips us bountifully.

I preach to myself here, and you can listen in if you want. And my guess is that you ought to—that you need to—because my guess is you’re just as inclined as I am to look at what you don’t have, think about what you lack, than you are to consider what you do have, and more than that what God is willing to bountifully supply to you! I defy you to find me a place in the Scriptures where God and all He supplied was not enough! I defy you to find me a place in the Scriptures where God was stingy! God gives to Adam what? "Every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” (Genesis 1:29). God says to Noah: “Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Genesis 9:3). God tells Abram (Abraham): “Look around … All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:14-15).

One might conclude that God is not only the God who works and the God who rests, but the God who gives--and that in abundance! When Jesus feeds five-thousand with five loaves and two fishes, “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish (Mark 6:42-43). There were leftovers enough for each of the twelve disciples to require a carry-out basket! (“This little Styrofoam thing isn’t gonna work—you got anything bigger?”)

When you get to the end of the book—the consummation of all things in Christ—the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 is marked by such abundance that “the nations … walk by its light and the kinds of the earth … bring their splendor into it” (Revelation 21:24). Our God, my friend, is more than enough. He acts in ways that are abundantly generous toward us! We’ve said this before, but God acts not out of our lack but out of His abundance!

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

What’s the motivation there? To be sure, our need was great—beyond our capacity to meet it. But it’s not the need that motivates God’s actions—it’s His abundance!

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16 )

I’m hungry for you to understand, this morning, that God’s abundance toward you—His ability and willingness to supply every need and equip you for every good work— doesn’t stop the minute you step on the shop floor or into the office or into the classroom or into wherever it is you find yourself employed! God equips us bountifully.

And—here’s a thought—through His purposeful calling and bountiful equipping (presuming here that our lives are submitted to Him) God continues to engage this world and shape it according to the intent He had for it when He formed it! He gifts Bezalel and Oholiab and “all the workers” (Exodus 31:6 says) with “ability” to carry out His purpose…to continue His work. Just as He gifted Adam with certain capacities to continue His work in that sanctuary we know by name as the Garden of Eden…he gifts Bezalel and Oholiab and “all the workers” with the capacities needed to see “His kingdom come and His will done” in the construction of the Tabernacle for Israel. And I declare today that He’s done the same with you—equipped you (not minimally, but bountifully) so that you--on the job and off it—can be successfully about your Father’s business. God chooses us purposefully God equips us bountifully

And third, God connects us cosmically.

I love myself for using that word—“cosmically!” I know—that’s not a word we use every day - unless, perhaps, you’ve delusions of grandeur or are really into sci-fi or something. But the reality—and think about this in terms of what we just said about how the calling and equipping of God is one of the ways He continues his creative and cultivating work in the world—He gifts people with what they need to do the tasks He wants to see accomplished—the reality is that one of the greatest things God does with our work, then, is to connect us to “everyone else” and “everything else” that’s going on around us in ways that (at the same time) tie our work to His eternal plan in ways that help us see the connection (and sometimes just “trust” the connection) between our quite local activity and God’s cosmic activity between what we’re doing in our small world 9 to 5 and what God is doing in His boundless world for all eternity!

Listen—we’ve talked about broadening our understanding of what Scripture means when it describes those “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10) broadening our understanding of that to include the reality that maybe those works involve our activity, and our productivity, on the job! Well, it’s only three verses prior to this verse that where the Apostle Paul declares that part of the reason God does that is: “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus”(Ephesians 2:7 NIV). Paul connects the “good works” God’s prepared for us in the here and now—yep, even “good works” that are no more “spiritual” than just giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay—Paul connects even those good works with the eternal destiny every one of us carries of bringing glory to Jesus forever and ever in His coming Kingdom!

I declare that my work and your work is cosmic in scale. We act, too often, like the activity of the Holy Spirit on the earth today is limited to the salvation of the human soul, and by that we miss the greatness and engagement of God with our world. The Scriptures reveal that the activity of the Holy Spirit has liberty to engage the whole person and the entire planet…including every laborer’s task and every economic system—or, as Abraham Kuyper (who we quoted a week or two ago) has said:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” Abraham Kuyper

I love it that the first person about whom (the Bible says) God himself says "I have filled him with the Spirit of God" (Exodus 31:3) I love it that that guy was a construction worker. That Bezalel and Oholiab— filled with the Spirit of God—knew their task was not just to build a portable tent…but to create a place of worship to God Almighty. I tell you that that’s our task, as well. Called purposefully, and equipped bountifully, and connected cosmically…we’re privileged (yep, even in the rough and tumble of the day- to-day 9 to 5) to complete those “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Discussion Guide for The Gift of Ability for Blue Collar Workers

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These discussion questions relate to Kent Duncan’s sermon: The Gift of Ability for Blue Collar Workers. Learn more about his integrated outreach to blue collar workers by reading his thesis: Facilitating Marketplace Ministry in a Blue-Collar Context.

Tell us something about yourself by answering one of the following questions:

  1. What is the most creative part of your work?
  2. When you were first hired, what was your biggest challenge?
  3. When someone new comes on the job what is a key thing that you have to teach them?
  4. Tell of a time when you have added wisdom to your tasks at work.

Discussion Questions relating to this week’s sermon: The Gift of Ability for Blue Collar Workers

  1. Read Exodus 31:1-11. Filled with the Spirit, Bezalel and Oholiab shaped and assembled raw materials to construct a tabernacle. Bible Scholars suggest that their labor echoes God’s labor in forming the world (Genesis 1). Assuming that’s so, can you see your work displaying that same connection? In what ways?
  2. According to Exodus 31:1-6, God chose Bezalel and filled him with His Spirit purposefully. How would you describe God’s purpose in Bezalel’s call? What conclusions might you draw about God’s purpose in calling you to the work you do?
  3. R. Paul Stevens suggests we’re called “to Someone before we’re called to do something.” How does your relationship with Christ precede and shape your calling as a worker?
  4. The Scriptures consistently reveal God’s ability and readiness to supply generously. In what ways is your work marked by God’s generosity in equipping? Are you able to make God’s abundance a consistent part of your work experience? If so, what evidence of this God-confidence can be seen?
  5. “[Spiritual] gifts in the new creation,” writes Terry Cross, “do not only serve a sacred, invisible really, but also serve the physical needs of humanity.” In what ways can you see God’s gifts serving His purposes through you on the job?
  6. God’s purposeful call and generous equipping connect our work to His cosmic plan as He gifts and places us to continue His creative activity in the world. In what ways do you see your work connected with God’s? In what ways do you see your work connected to other people?
  7. What difference does a sense of God’s calling make when you consider your work as rooted in His call, blessed by His abundance, and connected to His plan?
  8. In what ways might you view your work differently this week in light of these Scriptures?

The Gift of Future for Blue Collar Workers (Sermon Notes)

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So…let’s review:

The Gift of Work - As creatures formed in the image of the God who works, work for us is (1) not a curse, but was part of God’s gift of a perfect world to us…and work is (2) one way we’re privileged to participate with Him in dominion over all the earth. We’re invited to cultivate, create, and shape this earth according to God’s purposes—just as Adam did in the Garden of Eden. Because of sin, our work is certainly not trouble-free, but it remains fundamentally good and fundamentally purposeful, as it has been since the beginning.

The Gift of Rest - Sabbath rest is equally good and purposeful … and practicing Sabbath serves at least four critical functions. First, it serves as testimony … that we’re under God’s authority, working in partnership with Him, and dependent upon Him for who we are and all we enjoy. Likewise, Sabbath gives opportunity for celebration—the celebration of all sorts of things, but primarily the celebration of the finished work of Christ by which our redemption is secure. We don’t take a Sabbath because our work is complete—we take a Sabbath because Christ’s work is complete! Furthermore, Sabbath serves to shape our identity—both (1) with others (how we treat Sabbath rest tells *other* people something about our relationship with God)…and (2) within ourselves—we become different people when we choose to practice Sabbath than we would be had we not chosen to practice Sabbath. Finally, Sabbath speaks of promise, as by the practice of Sabbath rest, we anticipate that ultimate place of completeness in Christ He has secured for us for all eternity.

The Gift of Ability - Our work (and our rest), then, is rooted in the past activity of creation. Everything we said about work and rest the first two Sundays grows from Genesis 1 and 2—creation! But our work is equally rooted in the present—in the reality of redemption … whereby *every one* of us is privileged to know the fullness of the Spirit’s work as did Bezalel and Oholiab, who we talked about last week. *We* have experienced what Bezalel and his co-workers experienced—how (through the Holy Spirit) God calls us purposefully, equips us bountifully, and connects us cosmically. Surely that’s all we’d really need to know, right? Surely that’s enough! That the goodness and inherent rightness in our work is rooted in creation (past) and renewed in our redemption (present)!

And that’s where you say, “Oh, no, Pastor Kent—tell us more!” Alright—I will. There’s at least one more Scriptural revelation about our work that’s worth our chasing together this morning … and I’m not sure we didn’t save the best for last. I want us to talk together, this morning, about: The Gift of Future.

I’m praying, this morning, that our attitudes about our work be captured by a fresh sense of the future promised us “in Christ.” It is a powerful, beautiful, redeemed and righteous future—and worth every investment we might make in it in the here and now.But what I want to say about our future in Christ is rooted in something we’ve been saying over the last few years. So let me start by saying it again. In short: When Jesus shows up on the earth, time is transformed.

Jesus spends his first 30 years or so on this earth in obscurity—and BTW, everything we know about those years says Jesus spent them doing carpentry - that the redeemer of all Creation knew the joy of working with His hands, of building stuff, knew the discipline of swinging a hammer and guiding a chisel…that Jesus knew what it was to smash His thumb … to have calloused skin and a sweaty brow! But after 30 years or so of working as a craftsman—an artisan—in the village of Nazareth, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River as something of the signaling of a transition point into a more public ministry. The Holy Spirit descends upon Him from heaven like a dove. The Father speaks from heaven—“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” And after forty days of testing in the wilderness, Jesus heads back his hometown of Nazareth, and there—in His hometown synagogue—He’s not Jesus the Carpenter, but Jesus the wannabe Rabbi. And He’s given the privilege of reading the Scripture to the congregation on the Sabbath.

Now, there was an assigned reading for the day, but Jesus chooses to ignore it. (Think of this in terms of my having asked Ed to read a particular Scripture today, and having him—without any clearance—choose to read something else. You know how that’d go over with me and my tidy little order of service, right? That’s what happens here!) The Gospel of Luke tells us that when the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Jesus, he unrolled it to a different place than where he had been assigned to read from.

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

It was—I’m sure—a powerful reading of the text! (I mean, you’ve got the Word reading the Word!) And here’s what you’ve got to know about that: This was a prophetic passage. It was something the worshippers at Nazareth anticipated coming to pass in the future…and perhaps even well into the future. It’s the same kind of thing we think when we read about the breaking of the seven seals in Revelation or the Battle of Armageddon. We’re sure those things are going to happen—and maybe even very soon—but we don’t think they’re happening “now.” Not just yet! But Luke says that Jesus, having read this prophetic passage from Isaiah:

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17-21)

Today this Scripture is fulfilled! What you’ve just heard is happening now! That, my friend, if true , is a startling reality, a profound revelation that compels a re-evaluation of the nature of the age in which we live! I know, right! I don’t think we spend much time considering “what age we live in.” But the Scriptures paint the picture of a coming age of righteousness and peace and wholeness (“shalom” would be the Jewish word to use there). It's an age when everything will be as it should be and one thing we know is that everything isn’t as it ought to be today.

So we must not be there yet, right? But Jesus shows up and says, “Oh yes we are!” I mean—if I can paraphrase it a bit, and interpret Jesus’ words here a bit, what Jesus says is that anywhere He’s present and anywhere He reigns eternity starts now! “You’ve passed from death to life” 1 John says. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!”

The Scripture Jesus reads is about the future—there’s no doubt about that. The Scripture speaks to a divine “year of jubilee,” really, in which sin is pardoned and debt is forgiven and healing is accomplished and liberty is restored! But while his listeners were busy thinking that that only happens somewhere down the road, Jesus says “Nope—that future starts now!” “Today this Scripture is fulfilled …”

And here’s the thing: In the life and ministry of Jesus…and—listen closely—in the life and ministry of the church, as well (read the book of Acts), the kind of things we expect to be true of eternity (“heaven,” we usually say) begin to happen in the present—in the now. Sins are forgiven. Bodies are healed. Demons are defeated. Relationships are restored. Death—ultimately—is overcome! So that the only reasonable conclusion to reach is this one: In the ministry of Jesus, and in the life of the church, God’s promised future becomes present reality! The age to come invades the age that is! (And) “Holy Spirit-filled,” “Holy Spirit- fueled” believers live the future now!

And (just to be clear)…that future we live now—just like the future that *awaits* us—doesn’t consist of (1) harps and (2) angel wings and (3) floating about eternally on fluffy clouds. The future that awaits us isn’t about “just” the redemption of our souls, but also about the resurrection of our bodies. And the promise of our future isn’t limited to “heaven.” It's a new heaven and a new earth—the promise of the whole of creation “filled with God's righteousness,” one translation says:

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)

We’ve talked about this—but when you read the closing chapters of Revelation, the end of the story is not to float about eternally on a cloud, nor is it even a return to the beauty of Garden of Eden. (“People longing for a return to Eden,” says a guy named Paul Rude, “desire the wrong end of the journey”). The end of the story is not an escape from earth, nor is it a return to the Garden of Eden, but it is the hope—the confident assurance—of “a new heaven and a new earth”—all of it enjoying the continued development into the God-honoring civilization God Himself intended when He formed it!

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. [4] ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

That’s not primarily a vision of heaven. That’s a vision of what happens on a renewed earth! Jeff Van Duzer says:

“The last chapters of Revelation reveal that God will get what God wanted from the beginning. With the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth, the curse has been reversed and God’s intended “goodness” has been restored. The sea, which in the Hebrew worldview reflected a dangerous chaos apart from God, is to be gone forever. The intimacy lost in Genesis 3 will be fully restored. Once again, God will dwell with humanity and, in contrast to the whole of human experience since the Garden, men and women will once again be able to see God’s face.”1

Or as Amy Sherman has put it more succinctly: “If anything, this gospel is about heaven coming to earth, not us going to heaven.”

Our opportunity—by virtue of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh—our opportunity is to—in some way… on some level— live our promised future now. To flesh out and by everything we do make heavenly realities earthly realities in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, just like Jesus did. To see His kingdom come, and His will done on earth as it is in heaven. In my mind, here’s where it gets good. That’s true in every area of my life and yours—including our work.

In Colossians, chapter 3—which is really my text for this morning (some of you can’t believe I’m just now to my text, and some of you are relieved that, at least, I finally got here!). In Colossians chapter 3, I’m convinced that the Apostle Paul is quite aware of everything we just said about how the appearing of Jesus changes everything . He's quite aware that we get the privilege of living the future now, of “pulling heaven” into our earthly existence, as it were.

Aware of the transformation of the age accomplished by Christ, the Apostle Paul challenges believers to:

  • set both heart and mind on things above (Col 3:1-2)
  • put to death what belongs to the sinful nature (Col 3:5)
  • put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Col 3:10)
  • to whatever you do … do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col 3:17)
  • to do all in the name of the resurrected, ever-living Lord!

And then, in Col 3:18 Paul begins to give some very specific ways in which that is to happen:

  • Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
  • Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
  • Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
  • Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Colossians 3:18-20 )

And then we get to the matter of employees:

  • Slaves, obey your earthly masters…

I know I know that when I read that, some of you (of course) say, “I’m no slave—what’s that got to do with me?” But I’m also completely confident that others of you know exactly what that has to do with you, because—at least at *some* point in your 9 to 5—that’s exactly how you feel—like a slave! And maybe it’s not even your boss or your work situation, per se, that leaves you feeling that way. Maybe it’s just the reason you’re working in the first place. You wouldn’t work that job or work that way—that many hours, perhaps - if you didn’t you have to. But life has you at that spot and you simply feel you have no choice!

Or maybe it is your boss or your workplace. Maybe you’re sure you’re nothing more to your company than another piece of equipment, that the minute there’s a tool that’ll do your job better, faster, cheaper. You’ll be history and that, in the meantime, all they want to do is grind as much out of you as they can! You’re not a person to them— you’re just a wrench, a calculator, an answering machine. The Apostle Paul has a word from the Lord for you, my friend—because it’s a word for labor offered under even the most distressing circumstances: “Slaves.”

Now is this where I need to stop and say—this exhortation applies whether your labor is extorted from you on a job you hate … or you offer it joyfully as part of a job you love! The exhortation stands—even in a job you hate … even under circumstances you would change completely were it within your power to do so—because surely that was the situation for at least some of the slaves to whom Paul writes. To “slaves,” there is a challenge and a promise:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord (Colossians 3:22)

“Earthly masters,” of course, suggests that maybe some other master is a part of this equation, as well. Paul challenges workers to diligence not only when the boss is looking, but even when you think the boss isn’t looking. He calls for “sincerity of heart”—a singleness of intention in your work , a focus of purpose. (I think that’s tied to the purposeful calling we talked about last Sunday.) And, yes, even your labor should be done with “reverence for the Lord.” (How would you wait a table if it were Jesus you were waiting on? How would you bus that same table if it were Jesus you were picking up after? “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23)

There it is again! A reminder that there’s a master greater than any human master— that your boss (whether he or she recognizes it or not) answers to a greater boss— ultimately, to the highest power of all. And before you get too happily vindictive about that (“Can’t wait—God’s gonna show them a thing or two!”) … so do we! We answer to the King, as well. And our work, ultimately, is not just to earn a paycheck or advance a career or make a name. It is, ultimately, an offering to the Lord. You, too, are working “for the Lord, not for human masters!” But we work “not only when [their] eyes are on us” or “to curry favor” … we work “with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” … we work “with all our hearts, as working for the Lord” because our work is rich with promise! Verse 23 again…

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters [24] since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Oh, here’s something I want you to know: Your paycheck is bigger than you think! Here’s a little secret: There’s a second set of books! Your employer has a set of books. The IRS is looking over your employer’s shoulder to make sure those books are tidily kept! But there’s a second set of books the IRS doesn’t know anything about! There’s a second set of books your employer will never access. The King of Kings has an account with your name on it (you’re not a number to Him…only the hairs on your head)! And He’s keeping track! He’s making notes! And here’s His promise for diligent, God-centered, pure- hearted, “I’m offering my work to Jesus most of all” workers: “You will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”

This word “inheritance”—the word that gets translated “inheritance” here—I don’t have time to explain it in depth, but there’s an “end-time” character to the word when it’s used in the New Testament—an “eschatological” character (for those who’ve been part of the discussion groups). Using that particular word here (the Greek word is “kleronomias” if it matters) …using that word ties this passage to this very thing we’ve been saying about our future in Christ and bringing future realities into this present age. This word in this context tell me that it’s not just the stuff I might consider “spiritual” that gives me the opportunity to express and advance God’s future Kingdom in the here and now. It’s not just the time I spend in personal devotions … or volunteering at church. Rather, it includes, even, the quite ordinary and earthy and practical labor I offer on the job—under Christ’s reign, even my “9 to 5” becomes a means of (1) serving divine purpose and (2) advancing a heavenly Kingdom!

“Working for the Lord” certainly involves exhibiting the kind of character qualities that the Scriptures encourage—Paul has identified several of those himself in the opening verses of this chapter. But the eschatological character of “kleronomias” encourages us to understand our human labor as a means of anticipating and expressing God’s coming kingdom in the here and now. Our work becomes a way of anticipating and striving toward the realization of the Kingdom of heaven on earth!

When I weld, I lay down a bead that I’d be happy to present to Jesus.When I care for a patient, I offer the kind of generous care I expect to be the norm when Jesus reigns without rival over a new heaven and a new earth.When I drive a nail or finish a concrete pad or calculate a profit or instruct a student or help a buyer find just the right car or finish a tax return or build a tire or sweep the shop floor or decorate a cake…when I do it just like I’d expect to do it in the New Jerusalem when that day comes, I’m making the future a reality now! I’m quite literally seeing Christ’s kingdom come, Christ’s will done, on earth as it is in heaven. And I’m helping to march this world toward its consummation in Christ! I am, as a guy named Murray Dempster put it, “participating in Kingdom-signifying deeds of anticipatory transformation.” That work is never lost! Says Dempster, these “are the kinds of human effort that God preserves, sanctifies and directs teleologically toward the future age of God's redemptive reign.” Murray Dempster didn’t just make that up, pull it out of a head filled with rich imaginings. Scripture says so. What’s built (1 Cor says) with “wood, hay or straw” will not survive the refining fire that consumes this earth. But the Scriptures promise that.

Their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. (1 Corinthians 3:13)

God’s refining fire will test the quality of each person’s work, and what is built using “gold, silver, costly stones” will survive! And when it survives, "the builder will receive a reward" (1 Corinthians 3:14).

I am pointing you toward a shift in the focus of your work. Honestly, for many of us, work probably doesn’t have a focus. We do our jobs to earn a living, like it, love it, or hate it, it is what it is, and we have a hard time seeing it being anything else. But the Scriptures we’ve looked at over the last few weeks have shown me that both my work and your work has its foundation in creation itself—the past—and finds meaning in our present redemption and the call of God that redemption brings (the present). Today I want to move you from the past and even the present … toward the future. Toward the “kingdom-signifying deeds of anticipatory transformation” you can engage in through your work. Toward every moment on your job being an action that looks forward to Jesus’ return and Jesus’ unchallenged reign in a world just full of His righteousness. I want to point you toward 9 – 5 ‘till Kingdom Come.

I used the word “eschatological” a few minutes ago. It’s a word that has to do with end times: with “last things,” with how time as we know it wraps up and eternity (and the unchallenged reign of Jesus our King) is ushered in. Here’s a sentence or two for you to consider as I’m wrapping things up this morning. They’re the words of Miroslav Volf – a Croatian theologian who’s become one of my favorite thinkers. He loves Jesus. He loves the reality of the present gift and activity of the Holy Spirit. And he says about all of this:

“At its core, Christian faith is eschatological. Christian life is life in the Spirit of the new creation or it is not Christian life at all. … Christian work must, therefore, be done under the inspiration of the Spirit and in light of the coming new creation.” -Miroslav Volf

I want our work to be grounded in the history of our creation. I want our work to be rooted in the present of our redemption. But oh, how I long for our work to be pointed toward, shaped by, representative of, our future—that future where everything about this world finds its consummation in Christ! Let my work be marked by the kind of righteousness – the kind of justice and shalom – the rightness and integrated peace – that will mark this world when everything Jesus lived, died, and rose again to accomplish will be reality! It is God’s Gift of Future.

Discussion Guide for The Gift of Future for Blue Collar Workers

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These discussion questions relate to Kent Duncan’s sermon: The Gift of Future for Blue Collar Workers. Learn more about his integrated outreach to blue collar workers by reading his thesis: Facilitating Marketplace Ministry in a Blue-Collar Context.

Tell us something about yourself by answering one of the following questions:

  1. What is the most satisfying part of your work?
  2. How do you spiritually prepare for your workday?
  3. What have to told God recently about your job (the tasks you perform, your job position, your relationship with coworkers)?
  4. What do you look forward to as a reward at the end of your work years?

Discussion Questions relating to this week’s sermon: The Gift of Future for Blue Collar Workers

  1. Based on the significance of passages like Luke 4:17-21 and Acts 2, our study suggests the very nature of the age in which we live is transformed by the ministry of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Think about these changes and give three or four implications that result.
  2. In a recent book, Amy Sherman describes our promised future as marked by two key elements: “justice and shalom.” About justice, she writes, “The justice of God is all about restoring wholeness in relationships – with God and with other human beings.” [1] In what ways do you have opportunity on the job to work toward this justice?
  3. A second element Amy identifies in our promised future is “shalom” – something she suggests finds expression in four quadrants: peace with God, self, others, and creation. When you think about this “shalom” as an expression of Christ’s Kingdom, where do you see your work fitting in?
  4. Read 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1-4. These Scriptures suggest a more “down to earth” eternity than we might ordinarily think. Rather than the destruction of this earth and our “escape” to heaven, verses like 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1 describe “a new heaven and a new earth.” In what ways does the thought of an “earthly” eternity change your ideas about the future?
  5. Consider Jesus’ resurrected body. In what ways was it like His pre-resurrection body? In what ways was it different? What might Jesus’ glorified body tell us about what life in eternity will be like for us?
  6. Describing how our work can be shaped and motivated by an awareness of Christ’s kingdom, Darrell Cosden says, “work becomes a type of eschatological* mandate rather than simply a creation mandate”.[2] How does it change your understanding of work when you focus forward towards our full redemption as compared to looking backward to the stories of Adam and Bezalel? *eschatological: dealing with ultimate or final things; with Christianity, having to do with the destiny of humanity, the Second Coming, or the Last Judgment.
  7. When we work giving attention to Christ’s coming Kingdom, Murray Dempster says we participate in “kingdom-signifying deeds of anticipatory transformation.” Further, he declares that these “are the kinds of human effort that God preserves, sanctifies and directs teleologically* toward the future age of God’s redemptive reign.”[3] Think about your work as “prophetic.” How does it change your understanding as you consider the possibility that God will redeem and preserve such labor? *teleological: having to do with ultimate purpose or design.
  8. What action might you apply to your work this week in light of these Scriptures?